“The Music of Friends” is a term first used by Richard Walthew in a 1909 lecture to describe chamber music, music originally composed for small ensembles to perform in a confined often private space such as a house or a palace room.
The dais at the north end was designated for the music of friends. Roger worried over the personalities that would perform, a program created that listed them in alphabetical order except Master Purcell was acknowledged first to perform last. The chairs and music stands were set up with the expectation that they would be moved around to accommodate one complaint or other. Donatella tried to reassure Roger that musicians would always reconcile for the sake of the music, as she had seen Alessandro and Lonati do.
~ from To A Strange Somewhere Fled , sequel to A House Near Luccoli, which focused on the 17th century legendary Italian composer Alessandro Stradella.
The musical players
Henry Purcell (10 September 1659 – 21 November 1695)
It was during my research for A House Near Luccoli that I came upon the claim, noted in the introduction to Purcell Studies edited by Curtis Price, that Henry Purcell had openly regretted Alessandro Stradella’s death and, because of the Italian’s “great merit as a musician”, forgiven his fatal indiscretions. True or not, it stirred me to somehow bring the celebrated English composer into Donatella’s continuing story, and on reading Roger North’s assertion that the high point of his musical experience was entertaining the ‘divine’ Purcell, I was even more inspired to do so.
Henry Purcell was as obscure a figure as Stradella in terms of how little about his personal life was recorded. Despite his legacy of being a uniquely English composer, he enjoyed and sometimes emulated the Italian style. He met his end at a younger age than Stradella and in a way that left as much conjecture as to why. Was it chocolate poisoning, the result of pneumonia brought on by being locked out of his house by his wife after a night of drinking, or ‘just’ tuberculosis?
He came from a very musical family. His father, who died when Henry was a small child and his uncle, who became his guardian, were members of the Chapel Royal. His brother Daniel was also a composer. Henry had been a child chorister; his earliest known work was probably completed when he was ten or eleven.
The English maestro enters the pages of To A Strange Somewhere Fled at age twenty-four, already appreciated for his celebratory, church, theatrical, instrumental, and incidental music, and overcoming the constraints of the English language to write songs that perfectly complemented the poetry they were inspired by. In 1683 he was an organist for Westminster Abbey and the Chapel Royal and about to publish his first collection and be appointed royal instrument keeper.
He was a man of sorrows as well as joy—of six children born to him and his wife, only two survived to adulthood—his copious creations defining him as the scarce accounts of his life never could.
After the restoration of the British monarchy in 1660, Italian composers and performers arrived in England to find a welcome and work, some in the court of Charles II where lively, lavish, and constantly evolving entertainment was encouraged, while others visited for brief or extended periods or settled into being employed in or outside of London in churches and theaters and for private concerts.
Carlo Ambrogio Lonati (c.1645–c.1712)
Il Gobbo della Regina, the hunchback composer, violinist, and singer who initially made an appearance in A House Near Luccoli, was probably born in Milan but little is known of his early life. Lonati first made friends, music and trouble with Alessandro Stradella while both were in Rome under the patronage of Queen Christina of Sweden, and went to Genoa ahead of Stradella where he also preceded him as impresario of the Falconi Theater.
There is evidence that Lonati was in London—seen with a famous female singer—sometime between 1686 and1688. Ordered out of Genoa after Stradella’s murder in February, 1682, and leaving gaps in his activities and whereabouts for some time afterwards, it’s conceivable he traveled to England before the visit made notable because of the company he kept. His abrupt intrusion on Donatella’s new life was, in the course of writing To A Strange Somewhere Fled, as much of a surprise to me as it was to her.
Pietro Reggio (1632 -1685) (I couldn’t find a portrait of him)
There is much mystery surrounding the life of the “slovenly and ugly”, to quote diarist Samuel Pepys, composer, lutenist, and singer, Pietro Reggio, who was probably from Genoa as he was referred to as Pietro Reggio Genovese. He was employed in Stockholm by Queen Christina before her abdication and subsequent move to Rome where Stradella and Lonati encountered her. Eventually, Pietro traveled to France, and, if the inscription on his tombstone is accurate, to Spain and Germany. He had moved to England by 1664, where Pepys and another writer, John Evelyn, were entertained in very different ways by him. Whereas Pepys wasn’t overly impressed by “Seignor Pedro” who played the theorbo and sang Italian songs, Evelyn included Reggio’s singing in his description of the “rare music” he enjoyed after dinner one evening.
Reggio made his living in London for a time, performing and teaching, and also had associations in Oxford where he may have resided. His claim to fame is a collection of songs he published in 1680, mostly based on the verse of Abraham Cowley (1618 -1667) who was among the leading metaphysical poets of the 17th century.
Nicola Matteis (? – after 1714)
Nicola arrived in England after 1670, apparently not interested in royal service or public appearances, because, as Roger North also indicated, he might have to perform with amateurs. Despite his resistance, his popularity grew in the 1670’s and 1680’s. He is given credit for having changed the manner of violin playing from the French to Italian style, publishing Ayres for the Violin that provided detailed bowing instructions and directions for tempo and ornamentation. Still, his compositions were difficult and many were discouraged in their efforts to play them. John Evelyn was among those who praised Matteis’ vigorous style that made his performances so memorable.
Various Italian, English, Scottish, and French Musicians
Bartholomeo Albrici (1634 – ?), a composer native to the seaport of Senigallia in the province of Ancona in central Italy, taught and played the harpsichord. He spent time in Sweden with his brother, Vincenzo in service to Queen Christina, and traveled with him and their singer sister Leonora (1640’s – 1700?) to London in 1662 where they all were involved in the King’s Musick. Leonora was married to Matthew Battaglia (1640? – 1687), a musician to the Duke of York, later James II. Giovanni Battista Draghi (ca. 1640 – 1708) was an Anglo-Italian composer and organist invited to London by Charles II to help establish an opera house. That project was unsuccessful, but Draghi (nicknamed “Drago”) found other ways to contribute to the music of the court and remained in England for the rest of his life.
Besides Henry Purcell, other English musicians make themselves known in To A Strange Somewhere Fled, including Henry Aldrich, church musician, Canon of Christ Church and eventually Vice-Chancellor of Oxford University; Henrietta Bannister, wife of John Bannister “the elder” and music tutor to Princess Anne, daughter of James II; Robert Carr, viol player; Charles Coleman “the younger”, possibly a lutenist and theorbist; Thomas Eccles, a violinist who was said to have played in taverns; Thomas Farmer, violinist at the Duke’s theater in London and in service to Charles II and James II; William Gregory “the younger”, lyra viol player, composer and member of the King’s Musick and the Chapel Royal; William Husbands, organist at Christ Church, Oxford; and William Turner, composer and singer who served at Lincoln and St. Paul’s Cathedrals, the Chapel Royal and with the King’s Private Musick.
Also helping to add a flourish to the midsummer concert in To A Strange Somewhere Fled were Scottish composer and singer John Abell, Gentleman of the Chapel Royal, whose English songs showed Italian influence; and French composer and recorder player, Jacques Paisable (“Peasable” as he was mockingly referred to), who performed at the Drury Lane Theater and married actress and singer Mary “Moll” Davis after she was dismissed as Charles II’s mistress—with a lavish pension and house as a parting gift—when the nubile Nell Gwyn came on the scene.
“Oh, I must hear Stradella.” Master Purcell swung out his arms as though into an embrace.
“Let me choose.” Mama was irresistibly devious, lifting page after page.
“Something lighthearted and melodious, if you please.” The young composer’s arms dropped. “As I feel sure he would’ve wished to entertain us.”
“It is here.”
“No, Mama.” Donatella realized her mother’s discovery and an ache in her stomach.
Master Purcell was soon performing the selected music with his eyes and a delicate finger in the air. “Will you sing it, mistress?”
“Yes, yes. With my daughter, Donata, as she is shy. It’s her specialty.”
“Really?” Master Purcell screwed his mouth, skeptical but interested.
“In fact, Maestro Stradella might’ve written it for her.”
“Oh, no, Mama. In Rome, before—”
“You knew him?” Master Purcell motioned for Lonati who had been listening without comprehending what should have provoked him into having his say. “I would like to hear this, Carlo. I don’t see a bass viol, but Reggio can improvise. The ladies will sing. There’s only one score.”
“I know it by heart.” Donatella blindly stepped back into her mother’s arms.
“Of course you do, darling,” Mama’s soft voice blew into her ear.
“Ah,” Purcell was watching them closely, and then turned back to Lonati, who was explaining the music to Reggio.
Keeping true to A House Near Luccoli, much of the foundation of this novel relies heavily on music as expression. The cadences and temperaments of compositions are reflected in Denton’s pacing as well as her confidently executed freedom of narrative … revelations are made, characters introduced, and emotions uncovered with unexpected swells and surges of expression.
~ from review by Casee Marie Clow, Literary Inklings
This plot is as much about music as Donatella’s first story, which covered the time when she was a copyist for Stradella, but in this novel Donatella’s role as a performer is emphasized … Denton writes with a lyrical style which swells, fades, and swells again, creating a perfect setting through its tone as much as its meticulous description. Her words pull her readers to 17th century England like music from that era.
~ from review by Steve Lindahl, author of White Horse Regressions
… the secrets and the rhythm within these pages lifts the reader to appreciate the subtle yet daring intricacies of music, passion and life in 17th century England.
~ from review by Martin Shone, author of Silence Happens and Being Human
What an inspired and informed imagination to portray the young Henry Purcell. The author’s descriptions of music, particular musicians, and musical performances make this book a work of art itself. To A Strange Somewhere Fled is a virtuoso performance.
~ from review by Mary Clark, author of Tally: An Intuitive Life and Covenant
A well-researched history of the 17th century music loved by the Italians in Genoa, and now in England, where well-known musicians such as Henry Purcell and other notables are popular. What I found most valuable in these two books were the exceptional scenes with composers and performers of the day, described in details that keep the reader deeply involved in that age.
~ from a review by Jean Rodenbough, author of Rachel’s Children, Surviving the Second World War
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(This post was first published in July, 2015. I have made a few adjustments to it. Hope it is enjoyed again and for the first time!)
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